The Kids Around Hall


    The craft of writing fiction requires an author’s innate ability to capture – and maintain – the reader’s attention. It’s sleight of hand – or pen in this instance, with twists and turns deciphering an ending not envisioned by the reader. The process takes vision, vivid imagination, a well scripted story line and ‘sleight of pen’ to playfully mislead readers into a perceived outcome, while planting thoughts and doubts that in the end make for a fantastic story.

    It happens in the hockey world, too, and might be happening to Leafs fans currently. It could be a main factor in drafting Victor Hedman over John Tavares in the 2009 draft.

    Hedman or Tavares

    The clamor and focus on the Tavares/Hedman debate remains a short term vision. Teams don’t operate in such isolated bubbles with static vision. Even coach Ron Wilson admitted last night prior to the Leafs/Sabres tilt that there is a plan in place and the Leafs are working through the details.

    Many reports indicate most GM’s will look at their individual needs and decipher who goes first overall in 2009. I think this is just the politically correct public statement so that GM’s and henchmen don’t show their cards. It would be foolish to do so and not in the best interests of their respective clubs. But in private, there are distinct plans based on the final outcome of the season and draft order. Even if other assets have to be used to solidify a draft spot to turn the vision into reality.

    For the Buds, in the background, it seems likely drafting Hedman over Tavares is a solid move considering the prize in the draft in 2010.

    Not to take away from the possible contribution Tavares would have in blue and white, but I don’t believe he is the intended target in the 2009 draft in this portion of the Leafs rebuild; rather it’s another youngster with a late birthday and super skills.

    Meet Taylor Hall, an electrifying, lanky pivot for the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League. Draft eligible in 2010 (born in 1991, but after the September 15 cutoff for eligibility.) Standing at six-feet, and 178 pounds, the center is patient, can stickhandle in tight areas with NHL ready skating skills and speed, and the ability to go coast-to-coast, making exciting plays whenever on the ice. His skills make him an instant candidate for being a 1st overall pick in 2010 and an even better candidate in the overall plan for the Buds.

    Hall enters his draft year (next season) with three International Gold medals (Under-17 and two Under-18) representing Canada and will make a splash at the World Junior Championships next season when Canada goes for six consecutive Golds. The future NHL star is already garnering loads of attention (and praise from Don Cherry, both hailing from Kingston, Ontario), and the saturation will hit a fever pitch next season.

    The Spitfires pivot is the exact #1 center prospect the Leafs need and it makes drafting Hedman over Tavares an easy decision. That’s not to say that having both Tavares and Hall in blue and white would be a bad decision, but Brian Burke teams are built from the net out (see Giguere). Solidify goaltending (still a work in progress) then the blueline and sprinkle talent up front in two scoring units.

    If You Think they Stink in 2008-09 …

    Watching the season currently unfold, the Buds are in the thick of a position for a lottery pick. Talk of playoffs having (finally) waned and reality has settled in quite nicely. The 5-0 loss to the Sabres is ugly, but should be embraced, taken as a good sign for the future. It’s a lottery pick and top spot in the draft; that’s the incentive this season.

    If you think they stink now, imagine next season, after they have potentially jettisoned assets for picks and even less likely to win many games. Those losses become a win-win situation for both Leafs(tank) Nation, because Hall is just that solid a prospect.

    The rebuild isn’t contingent on a solitary vision based on one draft. It’s a composite of prospects coming through the pipeline at the junior, college, and entry level, as well as proper assessments of the eligible and targeted unrestricted free agents to compliment a lineup.

    Philadelphia, a coveted model for a quick turnaround for the Leafs rebuild, signed Daniel Briere when they had Mike Richards and Jeff Carter already in the wings. Surely they knew the potential of their youngsters coming up through their ranks, right? But they still signed Briere to a long term contract, front loaded it and are now shopping him to make cap space.

    Not to take anything away from the Flyers who could be a distinct dark horse in the East come playoff time, but their vision was reactionary and requires more reaction to tweak. They need some solid help on the blueline and will have to trade an asset to get it.

    So much for models.

    The Boston Bruins are another intriguing model where a mix of youth and veteran signings have put together a contending team. Youthful David Krejci and Milan Lucic augment veteran talent. There are factors like Tim Thomas having a Vezina-like season, Zdeno Chara emerging as a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate and Marc Savard playing out of his mind on both ends of the puck – as clutch as they come – into a Hart Trophy season.

    The sleight of hand may be necessary to keep the focus from fans on the short term. Long term vision doesn’t immediately sell tickets but does eventually set the club up to win Championships. It all starts with the raging debate over this draft crop and keeping a step ahead of the competition.

    Just like J.K Rowling did in Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince, (I won’t reveal the scenario as a spoiler), the sleight of pen in the Leafs instance is sure to create a magical ending without the need for a Hogwarts.

    NOTE *** no Death Eaters, house-elves or Slytherins were hurt in the writing of this blog.